House-Senate conferees should report strong Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act bill

Facebooktwittergoogle_plus

A January 3 editorial in the St. Petersburg (FL) Times, “Protect the Whistleblowers,” calling on Congress to strengthen the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act and override a presidential veto if necessary, leads with:  “Were it not for the disclosures of Rick Piltz of the White House Climate Change Science Program, the public might never have known that Bush administration appointees, including an oil industry lobbyist, altered the conclusions of the country’s top scientists in order to subvert concern over global warming. Piltz is one of thousands of whistleblowers who help make our government more accountable.” But: “The Whistleblower Protection Act is no longer serving its initial purpose….According to the Government Accountability Project, a nonpartisan organization devoted to protecting whistleblowers, in the last 13 years whistleblowers have suffered a 2-to-183 losing streak before the one federal appellate court to which they may appeal.” See Details for full text and Piltz note.

Rick Piltz note:
The editorial is on target about the legislation. One point of clarification: the U.S. Climate Change Science Program/Global Change Research Program is a multiagency scientific research program. It is NOT a “White House” program. Under the Bush administration modus operandi the White House has tried to turn the program, and in particular its communications about climate change, into an arm of the White House political machine. Climate science communication must be buffered from White House politics. This is a fundamental needed reform, and a problem that will need to be watchdogged no matter who wins the election this year. 

The editorial:

St. Petersburg Times
Editorial
January 3, 2008

Protect the Whistleblowers

Were it not for the disclosures of Rick Piltz of the White House Climate Change Science Program, the public might never have known that Bush administration appointees, including an oil industry lobbyist, altered the conclusions of the country’s top scientists in order to subvert concern over global warming.

Piltz is one of thousands of whistleblowers who help make our government more accountable. These everyday heroes are the men and women willing to put their careers on the line in order to expose fraud, corruption and abuses of power. Congress and the public owe them a lot, but the least we owe them are some sturdy protections against retaliation.

However, the law that ostensibly does that, the Whistleblower Protection Act, is no longer serving its initial purpose. Primarily due to a series of corrosive legal rulings, the protections of the WPA have been whittled away to almost nothing.

According to the Government Accountability Project, a nonpartisan organization devoted to protecting whistleblowers, in the last 13 years whistleblowers have suffered a 2-to-183 losing streak before the one federal appellate court to which they may appeal. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit exclusively considers the appeals of administrative rulings, and it has been actively hostile to whistleblowers.

In response, Congress, by large bipartisan majorities, has just passed new whistleblower protections. The House passed its bill 331 to 94 and the Senate passed a similar version by unanimous consent. Now a conference committee needs to be convened to reconcile the measures.

Among its numerous provisions, the legislation would end the monopoly of the Federal Circuit, allowing all federal circuit courts to hear whistleblower appeals. It would also clarify that a whistleblower who makes any lawful disclosure of misconduct qualifies for legal protection.

Current court precedents have punched so many loopholes into the law that whistleblowers who first alert a co-worker, rather than someone with authority to solve the problem, are deemed ineligible for protection. Also, anyone who corroborates a whistleblower’s charges is not protected from subsequent retaliation, since they are not the original whistleblower.

The loopholes are too numerous to list, but the new legislation would finally close most of them. The House version is stronger than the Senate bill, and, as much as possible, that’s the version that should prevail in conference. The White House, of course, has threatened to veto the measure.

If there is a veto, Congress should override it. It takes great personal courage to potentially sacrifice one’s career to expose wrongdoing. Now Congress needs to demonstrate a little political courage of its own by protecting those who are willing to come forward on the public’s behalf.*

See the Government Accountability Project December 18 press release, “Senate Approves Whistleblower Protection Legislation,” for more information. And stay tuned to GAP for definitive analysis and evaluation of Congress’ actions on this and other relevant legislation.

Climate Science Watch is a program of the Government Accountability Project.

*Copyright 2008 St. Petersburg Times

This entry was posted in Congress: Legislation and Oversight, Whistleblowers. Bookmark the permalink.